Museum/Community Programs over Time

The PISEC experience is a long-term urban collaboration and a model of successful community partnership for museums. The stories featured in this volume demonstrate the impact of participation in successive grant-funded programs on the identity, interactions, and interests of families and individual participants from a wide variety of backgrounds. The program has also had an impact on participating CBOs, the broader Philadelphia and Camden communities, and the professional museum community. Through its ongoing program, PISEC continues to change attitudes toward and understanding of science and technology in thousands of households throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

Impact on Individuals and Families

This publication shares the reflections of people whose lives have been changed through their involvement in grant-funded programs. They show us that such programs can initiate a process that extends beyond the experience available in museums or at community-based organizations. PISEC created a network of people with a shared interest and enthusiasm for science and a commitment to children and families.

How far do families go once they have determined that science activities are worthwhile and meaningful for their families? Long-term involvement had broad impacts on the lives of frequent participants and their families. The stories told here show how parents value these family learning opportunities. Parents noted that the program expanded their repertoire of family activities, including more visits to museums and zoos and more science-focused activities. Parents observed their children's increased interest in science and they observed with pride their children's increased competence in school science classes. Several noted that their children's career interests had shifted as a result of their participation in the program.

Both participants and science ambassadors were enthusiastic about the program. They valued the workshops that emphasized experiencing science in a hands-on, engaging way and the museum events which helped families feel like they were part of a privileged community of knowledgeable visitors.

Families Learning Together

Parents appreciated the opportunity to learn from and along with their children. Many of the parents recounted with excitement specific moments during workshops or in museums when they experienced a sense of wonder in learning science. Some indicated that participation increased their confidence in their own science abilities. They found that the format of the workshops removed the pressure of teaching from parents and the stress of assessment from children, allowing them to relax and enjoy doing science together. Beyond learning about science, parents and grandparents emphasized the value of spending time together as a family. They developed strong family connections to science as they experienced its relevance in their everyday lives.

The experience of learning together helped to improve communication between parents and children. Consistent and regular opportunities for involvement created many opportunities for intergenerational learning. Parents and grandparents were impressed with how otherwise easily-distracted youth were involved through a variety of interesting programs and experiences. The workshops gave children a sustained opportunity to engage in science, and provided multiple perspectives on what it means to be a scientist and to pursue a science-related career.

Impact on Science Ambassadors

For some of the ambassadors, the experience was truly life-altering. For the first time, they saw themselves as teachers and mentors, providing their community with valuable services and knowledge. Some of the profiles in this book reflect that experience, along with the practical outcomes of growing self-esteem and enhanced ability.

In particular, the science ambassadors developed greater confidence in their knowledge of science and in their ability to teach others. They became community leaders, taking pride in adapting programs to meet the needs, interests, and learning styles of their constituents. The CASE program helped them to develop self-assurance, a sense of purpose, and skills in communicating and teaching. Ambassadors were inspired by their experience and often continued to pursue work as community leaders and teachers after completing their work with the CASE program. Their membership in the community was an essential part of their role. It allowed them to develop relationships with participants that extended beyond the CASE program. In several instances, ambassadors created additional science opportunities for themselves and their communities in partnership with local schools and other CBOs. For CBOs, the ambassadors have become a significant resource, increasing organizational capacity to provide valuable educational programs to member families.

CLUES, the next PISEC project, takes the science ambassador concept a step further to a formal apprenticeship program. While CASE ambassadors were trained to present museum-developed programs in the CBO setting, CLUES apprentices receive the training, experience, and mentorship to create their own science workshops and to train other community members to present them. The concept behind the apprentice program is that building permanent CBO capacity will expand the community's ability to provide family science learning experiences.

Forging new Interests in Science

The participants profiled here found that learning science increased their interest and curiosity in all aspects of their lives—their homes, vacations, and daily routines. Families reported thinking about science during storms, cooking dinner, taking a bath, on vacation, and traveling. Some families repeated workshop activities at home, continuing the family's learning after the workshops were over. Many parents indicated that they felt that program participation helped their children succeed in school and encouraged their children to consider careers in science.

Nurturing a New Interest in Science and Museums

After participating in PISEC, both children and adults were eager to go to the museums, and saw them as positive alternatives to watching television or playing videogames. For the families who had attended museums prior to the program, the workshops and the program community offered a new way to experience the museum.

Some participants mentioned that they first joined the program in part because it offered a free opportunity to experience something new as a family. However, many later came to value their experiences in the museums enough to buy family memberships. The programs helped families feel like museum insiders and helped them enjoy visiting museums as a family.

Creating a Science-Focused Community Network

The program broke down barriers between members of different communities, creating a social and comfortable environment for everyone. Science ambassadors became community leaders and resources, answering science questions, making the program accessible to a variety of participants, and empowering families to do science projects on their own. Through the program, people became more engaged in science issues that faced their neighborhoods.

The strengths of long-term involvement are evident in the personal stories of active and dedicated participants, whose recollections serve as testimony to the impact of this series of programs. The program fostered multigenerational learning about science and enhanced family interactions and activities. It fostered connections among families and communities. Ambassadors, as community members, adopted roles as friendly and knowledgeable teachers and advocates. Workshops and museum activities helped adults and children alike begin to value, enjoy, and understand science and recognize and appreciate science in daily life.

Lessons Learned

A combination of characteristics contributed to the outcomes which have been described. These characteristics can be incorporated into other museum/community partnership programs.

  • Science was made accessible
    PISEC brought science activities into communities, training community members to facilitate workshops in familiar neighborhood organizations. Ambassadors were trained and practiced leading workshops in museums, then brought their knowledge of the community and science together in local settings.

  • The program increased family interest and engagement in science
    PISEC offered many and diverse opportunities for family participation. Frequent participants enjoyed the chance to visit multiple museums, participate in a variety of workshops close to home, and take home and try activities they learned about during the workshops.

  • Workshops encouraged whole-family engagement
    Programs focused on hands-on, open-ended activities that enabled everyone to participate and allowed whole families to learn together. The emphasis on family learning provided an opportunity for high-quality family time.

  • Ambassadors were empowered to become leaders in their community.
    The ambassadors brought together their new knowledge of science, their personal knowledge of their own communities, and their own teaching style to tailor workshops to their community's needs, interests, and issues.

For the Future

The PISEC group's current project is Communities of Learning for Urban Environments and Science (CLUES), which has extended its impact into the next decade. Future grants may allow the team to pursue even more radical approaches to making science an integral part of family and community life. Whatever the future holds, it is clear that long-term, intensive programming made possible through nearly two decades of grant-funding and collaborative effort have borne significant fruit. It is safe to say that the impact of PISEC's family approach to science education will be felt in and outside of museums, within community organizations, and in households for many years to come.